There’s been a lot of discussion in recent months about the relationship between the police and civilians. Protests are being staged all over the country, and a number of unarmed people have been shot.
There’s no denying tension levels are high. We live in a world where hostility towards the police seems to be rising, and cops are increasingly on their guard against any potential threats to their own safety or that of the people they’ve sworn to protect. Therefore, if you find yourself stopped by law enforcement, it would behoove you to know exactly what you should do and which actions you should take, and not take, to ensure your own safety.
Be Courteous and Compliant at All Times
Perhaps you feel that you’ve been stopped unjustly. But don’t take it out on the officer. Arguing with him or her or getting belligerent will only make things worse. Don’t touch them in any way. If you’re on foot, don’t run away, but stay until you’re told you can leave.
Do as they say promptly. Always keep your hands in plain sight, unless you’re asked to produce your identification. When you’re pulled over, if possible have your ID out and ready for them when they reach your car. If not, reach for it slowly and calmly, and don’t make any sudden moves. Above all, always be polite. If the charge is bogus, you’ll have your day in court to dispute it.
Know Your Rights
If you’ve simply been pulled over for a routine traffic violation, then your best course of action is to do what you’re told and get it over with as quickly as possible. But if it’s something more serious—or if after stopping you the officer begins to suspect you may be guilty of something more than speeding or a broken taillight—it’s important to understand what your rights are in the situation and keep them from being violated.
If they ask if they can search your car, you have the right to say no. This doesn’t mean that you have anything illegal in it, only that you have a right to privacy. They can decide that there’s probable cause to search it anyway, without your permission, but your refusal does not automatically give them that right.
You don’t have to answer any questions or make any statements, even if they’re asking you questions. If you’ve ever seen a cop show on TV, you’re no doubt familiar with the “right to remain silent,” and the fact that what you do say can be used against you in court.
If they take you into custody and/or question you, you have the right to have an attorney present. If you’re unable to find one for yourself they must provide one to you. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, tell your lawyer the situation, as honestly and in as much detail as possible, so that they can better represent you.You can also file a written complaint with the precinct and/or with the ACLU.
Ensuring Your Safety
If you suspect your safety may be at risk during an encounter with the police, you’re well within your rights to film the ordeal, to be used as evidence later. Be warned, though, that reaching for your phone and sticking it in an officer’s face can be seen as belligerent. Particularly if they already seem to have animosity towards you, it can lead to an altercation. If you feel you must record the interaction, do so calmly and politely and try not to provoke them.
Make no mistake: there are some less-than-ethical officers out there. However, in any city, these are a very small minority. Most police are simply trying to do their jobs, and most altercations arise from misunderstandings, or suspects not complying with what they’ve been told to do. Therefore, your chief concern whenever you’re stopped is to treat the officer with respect at all times and fully comply with the law. If you remember that, you’re much more likely to get through any encounter with the police safe and secure.